The Holiday Shopping Season is just around the corner! You may have been thinking about buying your first telescope, whether it’s for you or a sentimental gift for a loved one.
Sometimes, these telescopes will pop up into your social media feed, and they will try to pass off as legitimate. You may even see the price tag and think, “oh man, that’s a steal!”
Don’t fool yourself, and don’t be fooled! Here is how to identify a telescope that is NOT worth your hard earned money!
The Price Tag Is Too Good To Be True
One day, a patron looked at the moon through an 11″ SCT and asked me, “so how does this compare to a ‘normal’ telescope?” Baffled, I said, “Sir, this is a normal telescope!” He then continued, “no, I mean those scopes you can buy for a hundred dollars.” “You mean those cheap telescopes you can buy at department stores?” He smiled and said, “yes, those telescopes!” I then said, “I hate to tell you, but we call those ‘trash telescopes.'”
I have always said, “If your budget is $100 or less, then get a pair of binoculars instead.” I don’t recommend even thinking about a decent beginner scope until its above the $200 price range. Even then, don’t assume you’ve found a winner just yet!
The Details Listed by the Seller Are Vague
Look at the product details on this one! Not once does it mention the aperture or the focal length, the two most important specs that make a telescope work! There is no way that is an equatorial mount, nor a scope with a “main mirror.”
If the details are clearly not correct, and the seller seems really shady like a lot of off market social media sellers are, then it’s definitely a piece of junk! Good luck seeing anything out of it!
It Boasts About Magnification
This is another big thing to look for on the product details. Any telescope that boasts about how much magnification you’ll be using with the kit is fooling you into buying it!
In this example, the product listing talks about 200x magnification. It mentions twice on how much you can magnify on this scope, But then the product also mentions the aperture, 60mm! The highest a 60mm telescope can resolve is about 120x, otherwise it’s too mushy and your scope won’t be able to focus. Sure, you can set it up to get to 200 and 240x, but it won’t look very sharp or good! Plus, good luck keeping it on the object at that magnification without a clock drive!
Plus, it’s being sold at Kohls… which leads to the next point.
If it’s Being Sold in a Department Store!
Please, don’t buy them from department stores. The workers most likely have no clue on how the telescope works, and won’t be able to answer your questions. It will always be better to search online and do your research on a telescope from a reputable website.
If you want your telescope to be a good investment, then a telescope only capable of showing a few objects is not going to be it.
Sure, even Celestron and Meade are guilty of putting out these telescopes to make a quick buck for the holidays. Sure, they can show the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn okay, but most likely the scopes with large enough aperture for some deep sky won’t be sold at a sporting good or toy store!
The Materials Are Cheap!
All you have to do is see the details by looking at the preview images. You should be able to tell that the tube is made of plastic, and even the optics are made of cheap plastic. Many times, the mounts it comes with are so lightweight and flimsy, that you won’t be able to stabilize anything! Sometimes these mounts are simply those meant for camera tripods but are sold with a telescope.
A good telescope, even a small one, is capable of you moving the tube steady without you having to hold down the mount.
Just say no to plastic and aluminum tripods!
Bad telescopes also come with eyepieces where the “lenses” are actually plastic, and sometimes even a solar filter that can break and cause eye damage! The eyepiece focal lengths also pretty narrow compared to the eyepieces that come with a legitimate scope.
Essentially, you’re not purchasing a working telescope, you’re buying a glorified toy!
You Didn’t Do Any Research or Asked Someone Who Knows This Stuff!
Trust me, telescope users like us WANT to help people get good telescopes at a good price. Visit an observatory, or attend a star party hosted by an astronomy club. The people WANT to give you free information and save you the hassle!
People who visit the observatory ask me all the time “so what kind of scopes do you recommend?” And because I know they’ll forget the information, I give them my card and tell them to contact me so I can follow up! Most never do. Maybe they found a good scope, maybe they ended up getting a bad one, or simply lost interest and gave up.
Either way, someone like me can’t help you if you don’t ask or follow up, and if you go ahead and get a POS only for you to be told later “it’s a trash telescope,” then that’s your fault!
Great first telescopes don’t need to be super fancy, include a motor drive for tracking, nor do they need any computer software. You can get good all around telescopes in the $200 price range, and they can be good investments in return. They can have equatorial mounts which enable you to track with Earth’s rotation, or they can be Dobsonian reflectors that are easy and ready to use straight out of the box.
Do people end up getting the so called “trash scopes” before graduating to a better one? Sure. But most people who purchase these pieces of junk that collect dust after one or two uses end up giving it away for free, spider webs included!
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